On December 27, 1941, the Piaseczno Rebbe delivered his last recorded drashah on Parashat Vayigash in the Warsaw Ghetto. The previous month was especially brutal: an especially cold winter, combined with a severe coal shortage, exacerbated the typhus epidemic, and each morning a detail of the chevra kadisha patrolled the streets to collect the bodies of malnourished, homeless Jews who succumbed to the frigid temperatures. The icy weather was surpassed, however, by the cold cruelty of the Nazis, who conducted several public mass executions immediately prior to Hanukkah.
The Rebbe’s message meditated on the first word of the parashah: vayigash, which translates as “and he approached,” which is in itself a metaphor for prayer, our “approach” to G-d. The Rebbe further noted that our prayers are typically a combination of third person and second person statements. For example, when we say baruch ata Hashem—blessed are You, O G-d—we address G-d in the third person (blessed) and the second (You). The literal translation of these grammatical terms in Hebrew is significant: third person is nistar, meaning “hidden,” and second person is nokhakh, meaning “facing, present.” The Rebbe wrote:
Granted, there are times when a person cannot begin his prayer to Hashem in the second person, rather he can only approach G-d in the third person. When one prays, however, there will be moments when G-d revealed and we draw close, in the sense of the second person… In the end, one may achieve closeness to Hashem, who is revealed in the sense of “you,” the second person.
All this depends upon the approach (vayigash). When a person does not pray in a merely casual or habitual manner, rather he approaches and draws near to G-d, and prior to prayer one takes to heart the fact that prayer is a form of complete attachment to the Blessed One, and in the manner that one would approach and draw near to a human king, so too should one mentally prepare to approach prayer, which is an approach to the Blessed One. Ultimately, one will achieve the revelation of the second person and and complete attachment to G-d, and elicit beneficent acts of salvation for one’s self and for the entire Jewish people, amen.